In terms of New England Patriots folklore, Ernie Adams has always been an enigmatic figure. His reputation of being the proverbial "man behind the curtain" has led to some myth and mystery surrounding his role with the team.
However, for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, as well as Adams himself, there is hardly anything mysterious about him, or his value to the organization.
On many occasions, Belichick has praised him as a brilliant football mind. Whether it be draft analysis, free agency input or football scouting and strategy, Ernie Adams was intricately involved.
In May, Adams announced that he would be retiring, capping a 46-year career in football, in which he has both seen and done it all. On the cusp of his final practice with the Patriots on Wednesday, Belichick yielded the remaining time on his media video conference to pay tribute to a colleague and friend who has had a tremendous impact on his life.
"Ernie has been a great friend," Belichick said. "He has certainly been a great asset to this organization and me personally. ... This will be his final practice today. We'll miss him. I’ve leaned heavily on Ernie for 21 years. Great friend, great asset to this organization and to me personally. His passion for football is second to none.”
As a smiling Belichick stepped aside, Adams stepped in, greeting media members on the teleconference with a smile of his own.
“I tell people I have a really tough life. I live in the place I want to be and I win a lot of football games,” Adams said.
After starting his coaching career at Northwestern in the early 1970s, Adams entered the NFL in 1975 as a member of Chuck Fairbanks’ staff in New England. From the outset, Adams was responsible for a variety of tasks, including on-field and administrative assignments. In essence, Adams embodied a jack of all trades role that would stay with him throughout his career.
Adams left the Patriots in 1979 to join the New York Giants, being reunited with Belichick, his former prep school teammate. With the exception of two separate stints working in the private sector, Adams has worked closely with Belichick ever since. They worked alongside with the Cleveland Browns in 1991, and later reunited in New England when Belichick was hired as head coach in 2000. Since then, Adams has served in his position as football research director, playing a critical role in the Patriots winning six Super Bowl championships.
Through it all, Adams has been an indelible part of New England’s success. His thumbprint is clearly visible on the Pats’ approach to computer analysis, statistical evaluations and film coordination. Still, Adams’ role has been questioned by fans, players and media alike. Perhaps, that is what has made him so effective.
Adams, however, feels that his role is quite transparent. When asked Wednesday morning about how he would characterize his job description, Adams replied: “"My job is to figure out as many things as I can to help the New England Patriots win football games. Whether it's strategy, personnel, or anything else. The great thing is that (in this job) I haven’t had any restraints.”
The nostalgia could be heard in Adams’ voice, as well as that of Belichick, as they spoke Wednesday. However, Adams leaves a legacy of efficiency, versatility and professionalism.
What could be more Patriots-like, you may ask?
When asked to reveal the meaning behind the cryptic catch phrase “pink stripes” attributed to him, and known throughout Patriots fandom, Adams coyly replied: "That's strictly an inside joke, and proprietary football information."
Keeping them guessing, in true Patriots fashion.
Adams will be missed on the field and in the offices of the New England Patriots organization. However, one gets the feeling that he will always be around the game of football and the Patriots in some fashion — whether it is a social visit, or to lend some wisdom and counsel on front office decisions to be made.
Should the Patriots need to reach him, Adams offered some comforting parting thoughts, saying, “Bill has all my contact information.”